Sunday, June 30, 2013


Sam Dolan is our Gaylord of the filmographic world that informs and imprints our minds.

If you want to have a thrill about the world of plugged-in apps-ed smart phoned communicational networked big-brothered society and how to survive in it, read the book and have a good trip to the other side of the other side of the moon, the one you can only imagine, neither light nor dark, just virtually mental if not psychic.

You have to understand the structure of the book to be able to follow the story. The “main” story, situated in 2011, is told in Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 under the title of “The Long Weekend” that covers four days of Sam Dolan’s life from Thursday night to Sunday around or just after noon.

The first part deals with Sam Dolan trying to produce his film “Who We Are” as a project within his film and cinema studies on his campus in 2002-2003 with a subsequent transitional flashback to 1969 when that Sam was far from  being born yet. It tells the meeting of Booth Dolan, Sam’s father, and Allie, Sam’s mother. Between Part 2 and Part 3 we have a similar transitional flashback to 1991 when Booth Dolan visited his son’s fifth grade class and then left home for a certain Sandra with whom he will have a daughter. Between part 3 and part 4 another and last transitional flashback goes back to 2000 and brings in Allie’s death of a massive heart attack on the shoulder of a street in their city after retrieving a turtle from the middle of the roadway.

The book is centered on Sam Dolan and the general structure is supposed to bring him to his pre-midlife or adulthood epiphany built on all kinds of dramas dealing with constant conflicts with others that could go as far as murders, at least the intention of murder, to all kinds, types, sorts of aggressive domineering vengeful or plainly gratuitous nasty actions against anyone who is exploited in a way or another, as wife, as concubine, as adulterous affair, as friend, as partner, all of them in many ways slaves. Sam Dolan has inherited this from his father who will only get his epiphany when over 60, whereas Sam will get it just over 30. That’s progress American style, though I should say Western style as opposed to Asian, since in the dominant Buddhist tradition in Asia you are supposed to meditate first and act second when you have reached a level of clarity that may motivate you into an intention, away from a reflexive reaction or a provocative if not trapping, even luring action trying to entangle some other person or people in a maze of disorientation.

That’s what you need to know if you want to follow and understand the book. That will yet not in any way give you any deep empathy with the events, the characters and the situations depicted in the novel. Let me evacuate one approach at once that some are too keen to consider. You cannot compare Owen King’s novel with any piece of literature his father Stephen King has produced. We are dealing here with nothing supernatural; fantastic or referring to horror. We are dealing with normal people in a normal society with normal human events happening in normal lives. In the same way we have to exclude the biographical approach that would consider that the relation between Sam and Booth Dolan is a reincarnation of the relation between Owen and Stephen King. That is absurd and reductive. But some people, even critics are keen on such easy and superficial approaches. Owen King deals here with a fundamental problem: growing up for both a father and his son, along with many people around them, and what’s more in today’s society dominated by communication ever present in the book in the form of cinema, telephone, Internet.

In fact, and that is a central remark, the whole book is constructed around films. Booth Dolan is an actor of B series film that are small budget semi-small-blockbusters that have a constantly renewing audience of people who just want to be told crazy lunatic stories about anything that provide them with fear, fright, terror as well as joy, laughter and pleasure (including the side pleasure of dirty sexual games in the back rows of the cinema) like the Greek philosopher Plato being attacked and devoured by a vampire, or is it a werewolf? That Booth is constantly quoting his own films and some famous films we may recognize by title or director. The one that is most quoted is E.T. by Steven Spielberg. But At times the films are fictional, pure inventions to create this abstract constructed world in which some people can live mentally without ever considering the real world seen as a pure extension of this virtual cinematographic world, or an evanescent reality well hidden from sight by these virtual phantasmagoric mental films. On the last Saturday night of the book, Sam and some others spend their time in the local multiplex and Sam will end up seeing three films: “Fair Share,” a fictitious title and film, “Cheeks,” a fictitious title and film, and “Quel Beau Parleur,” a fictitious title and film, and he watches the first film with his new girl friend Tess and his old fundamental unwavering friend Wesley, the second film alone after he escapes from the first one but is then rejoined by Tess for a blow job, and the last film with his father who turns up more or less accidentally or incidentally, we cannot know which. We have here a common practice in the book. Most films are fictitious. The great actors of B series films are Booth Dolan and Rick Savini, both fictitious, and the constant discourse from Booth Dolan who refers himself to Orson Welles and a fictitious film by him, “Yorick,” that was never brought to the public and yet that was cut by the director and in that cut Booth Dolan had been cut out in spite of Orson Welles’ enthusiasm at the time of the shooting. They even shoot good actors after all.

The cinema becomes a mode of living, a mode of thinking, a mode of being and it is the only way the mind develops for the main characters. They think by building mental films of their own that will never become real. Life is nothing but a mental fictional and fictitious double feature reel.

That’s where we are entering the modern world in a very special way. The book is irritating in his slow and seemingly haphazard crooked telling line, story line and time line, often split in short sequences based on the common ellipse figure of the cinema. If B follows A, then B will be understood as the explanation of A and then A as the cause of B. Owen King does a lot of that all the time. We are obliged to submit to the story the way we would submit to a film but with the major difference that we have to read the text. That disturbs our reading pleasure that is slowed down, made chaotic and constantly we are obliged to stop, to go back, to check a detail or a sequence to understand what is happening. Literature does not like the ellipse at all. And this new style of reading we are obliged to develop seems to be more dictated by the exploded and scattered vision and experience we have in modern life where each moment has little to do with the previous one or the next one except that for the experiencer one item is before, one item is in the middle and one item is after, and hence the three are captured as having a logical generative relation. We are living in a world where we are bombarded with myriads of events, sounds, words, musics, films, videos, TV programs, news items, intercom messages, closed circuit TV adverts, and billions of other things and beings all the time and we are supposed to connect what we can into some coherence. We thence develop blindness and deafness to what does not correspond to the mental pattern that is our intention, motivation or goal and we try to build a jigsaw meaningful image of our life in process by excluding as many pieces as possible and thus avoiding the overloading surge of experiential, existential, circumstantial, situational, phenomenological items that would blur the picture with an accumulation of what is for us at any moment detritus; waste, garbage, rubbles, rejects, exhaust.

The point is that constantly Owen King’s “camera” is moving from the main character to all others. Sam, the main character is the one holding the camera all the time and that holding the camera is revealing his personality and his life. But as soon as the camera reaches someone else it becomes what it fundamentally is, that is a voyeuristic tool in the hands of the cameraman who is both revealing the most secret elements of the person being shot and the most secret and haunting impulses of the cameraman. And this cameraman who is both a voyeur and a projector is nothing but the puppet of the director in him, the mental (or real) impulse to build a vision that will be released to the public and that will inform public minds with the director’s dictatorial conceptions. And the point is then that some people will not accept to be tyrannized by this dictator of a director and the main one is Brooks Hartvig Jr who hijacked Sam’s film and added a tremendous satyr sequences in “Who We Are” in the place of some other sequences and this addition, a clear sign of the refusal of real social dictatorship Brooks is going through then and that will lead him to being institutionalized by his own parents, makes the film a cult film instead of being a simple B series movie. In such a society the only way to be creative is definitely to be crazy enough to hijack the projects of some other people and make them transcend the norms of acceptability, even the norms of social acceptable rebellion and anarchistic carelessness or drug addiction. In other words, Jesus Christ in today’s society would be like Brooks Hartvig Jr and would not be crucified but he would be institutionalized, tranquilized and even lobotomized to be put back in an acceptable box or role, in fact a padded cell cut off from all view or sound coming from the outside world, locking him up in his own mental ranting and raving, free to preach to the desert of the alienated.

But Owen King is no revolutionary, far from it. So he leads all his characters to some kind of epiphany in the last twenty pages, or so. They reach a level of pacified acceptance and integration in a way or another. Booth Dolan accepts being old and hence he goes back to his friend Tom and stop trying to be the actor he cannot be any more, and certainly the self-centered egocentric selfish individual using everyone around him. He has retired from that and is ready to go on the big trip to the other side of life. Sam Dolan finds peace in submitting to a woman, Tess Auerbach (who is probably Jewish, p. 369). The relation is primitive because it is nothing but sexual and physical if not carnal. The rest is purely submission. He drops his weddingography “alimentary hand to mouth career” and moves to maybe making a new film. But the balance sheet of these two characters is a lot more complex. Let’s examine Sam’s connections.

He is connected to six women. Allie Dolan, Sam’s mother who died of a heart attack some years after her divorce from Booth Dolan though she kept his friendship. Mina Dolan is Sam’s half-sister from the second wife of his father, Sandra Dolan, the third woman in Sam’s life, his stepmother. Sandra is institutionalized under the responsibility of Dr Jenks, whose son, Peter Jenks, is Mina’s gay boyfriend. Polly later married under the name of Knecht (quite a handful of meaning in German) is his high school and college girlfriend with whom he enjoyed aerobic sex and telephone masturbation. This went on after her marriage till she carelessly but not unintentionally revealed the affair to her husband. That leads to some spectacular shenanigans. Bea is a younger woman who comes across his way in 2011 and is only characterized as having a spider face tattoo and being pregnant. The last woman is Tess Auerbach who manages to capture him in spite of his first escape and then reluctance at answering her phone calls, etc. She is persistent and she had the same experience as Mina: her first boy friend was gay. She is the one who brilliantly says that women want their boyfriends to be a little bit gay but not all the way. You can wonder what this may mean, but it sure means women are tolerant as for gayness provided it does not deprive them of the men they want, or desire, or are appealed to. If you are such a man you have to submit: so you better not be gay all the way.

In the same way Sam Dolan has six male friends plus a seventh that is an intruder added by one of the six basic ones. Booth Dolan is the father and the epiphany of both Booth and Sam will come when they can finally accept each other and cope with their differences. Tom is Sam’s godfather and unmarried rich friend of Booth Nolan, the latter finally coming to Tom’s “shelter” (or is it a panic room like Kenneth Novey’s in “Secrets Only Dead Men Know” in which Kenneth Novey takes refuge one day and discovers after a while that the exiting pass-code does not work any more: good day, Mister Death) to spend the rest of his no longer creative life, apart from a seminar class in the local college.

Wesley Latsch is the fundamental and inescapable friend Sam needs to have to plainly be able to exist. Sam is Wesley’s roommate. Wesley is the home plate to which Sam can always come back for survival or some balancing act. This life sharing experience is going to be completely transformed by the connection of Sam and Tess, if it works. Johannes Jo-Jo Knecht is Polly’s retired baseball champion of a husband. Sam is obsessed by his muscular thighs and the possibility he may get strangled by them. A phantasm that could not me more gay (or should I say gayer?): that’s the gay dimension of all men in this novel. They all have male friends and they cannot envisage survival – or death – but in the hands of these male friends. Some like Tom or Wesley more or less accept that side of their personality and end up being permanent bachelors. Some only let this side of their personality develop into friendships with some selected males while developing a completely irrational love life with women, including divorcing the only one who is worth loving for Booth, and running away from the only one who is worth welcoming for Sam.

Then we have Brooks Hartvig Jr, a college friend of Sam’s, a young man who will heavily finance Sam’s film “Who we are” and accept all kinds of suffering and obnoxious exploitative actions if not exactions from Sam to be able to fulfill his own objective: to hijack Sam’s film and turn it into his own film, as we have seen. Sam comes to terms with him, in his institutionalized and heavily doped wheel chair, at the end after his own sister Mina, just some days before, assaulted him in the street and Sam on the same occasion exploded one of his testicles with his boot. Brooks does not even seem to remember the attack but he remembers the sword he was bringing back. Here again we have a heavy sexual connection between those two boys, a connection that is brought to a halt and some peace by a symbolical yet partial castration, maybe in the name of defending Mina, the poor sister in her frenzy coming from the fact her boy friend has just been revealed to her as being entirely gay, from cover to cover and even under the covers.

The last of these six men is Rick Savini, a cult B series film actor who is just another non-specifiable man as for his identity, personality or sexuality. He is a sword brandisher, whose sword is stolen for at least eight years by Brooks, salvaged by Sam when Brooks is institutionalized after setting his parents house on fire, and who recuperates his sword from Sam on the day he celebrates with friends the arrival of the Fall, in the very last part and chapter of the book. The sword had been stolen by Brooks as we just said, the man who brought the satyr, Costas Mandell, into Sam’s film, a satyr that is first and foremost known for his erect prick of majestic size, swerving and brandishing it copiously and eloquently all the time in the film, making love to tree trunks and roaming around in the forest in complete nudity. Once more, more gay (or should I say gayer,) than that you die. Definitely penile to avoid the more respectable phallic.

But all these impulses, desires and inclinations are negated by the fact society does not accept such extreme attitudes. This vision would be qualified by Francis Fukuyama as being a typical middle class vision. I disagree with the term middle class that refers to a class society, a concept coming from the 19th century and Karl Marx. The people we have in this book are college graduates or equivalent. They have an education that enables them to quote films, books, authors and the novel contains at the very least one hundred such references, some of them being fictional or, when dealing with films, fictional titles referring to real films thus obscured for the uninitiated reader These people have activities that enable them to be their own masters under the tyranny of clients, other entrepreneurs, agents, etc. In other words they are their own agreeing slaves of outside parties they can reject if they want, though then they kill themselves by starvation. These people are totally dominated by communication and information. Without their telephones, their computers or their Internet they could not exist, the world would disappear, dissolve in some kind of never-land, nether-land, no-man’s-land, in one word waste-land. And if they do not accept these rules, then they are institutionalized, doped, castrated, lobotomized, you name it you have it. Impossible Total Recall is the next stop on that underground line. These people are not a phantasmagoric middle class, but they are the circus personnel of this computerized, digitalized, entirely controlled postindustrial society of ours: the maitre-d’s and the masters of ceremony of the games of the circuses (diversity is essential) that go along with the bread of the Salvation Army for those who go hungry in the street without any shelter for the night..

And to end like Stephen King in the last volume of “Rge Dark Tower”, let’s go back to the beginning. If you want to have a thrill about the world of plugged-in apps-ed smart phoned communicational networked big-brothered society and how to survive in it, read the book and have a good trip to the other side of the other side of the moon, the one you can only imagine, neither light nor dark, just virtually mental if not psychic.


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